John Bolton reacts to report claiming Trump called fallen soldiers 'losers' and 'suckers'

This is a rush transcript from "The Story," September 7, 2020. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS HOST: Hey there Mike. We look forward to seeing you tonight at 11:00. Good to see you on this Labor Day evening. So good evening everybody. Happy Labor Day and welcome to the real kick off of the election season.

We've got 57 days ago now and in many ways today is the starting gate. This is when we expect that voters will really begin looking at the lay of the land in the country and evaluating their two options. We're going to talk to some of those voters who are undecided, slim margin of them this time around but we're going to talk to some of them later this hour, all from battleground states.

So stick around for that tonight, it's going to be interesting. So President Trump and Joe Biden, both out on the campaign trail today. President Trump saying that the virus and the economy will have better news coming, teasing potential on the vaccine timing and promising a sharp pick- up in jobs.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The vaccine will be very safe and very effective and it'll be delivered very soon. Now you could - you could have a very big surprise coming up and 2021 will create 10 million jobs at least in the first 10 months.


MACCALLUM: Joe Biden reaching out to suburban voters as he continues to try to attack center. He was in Harrisburg PA today despite declaring that he would go down as one of the most progressive presidents in American history. Listen to his message today.


JOE BIDEN, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: If the president announced tomorrow, we have a vaccine, would you take it? Only if we knew all of what went into it because so far nothing he's told us has been true. This president is on track to be the only present in modern history to end up with fewer jobs at the end of his term than existed in America when he began his term.


MACCALLUM: That is the latest Real Clear Politics national average. It shows that Joe Biden is up by seven, three weeks out from the first of three presidential debates that are sure to be quite consequential in this race and looking ahead tonight, new polling shows that majority of voters say they believe that President Trump will be the winner of those debates.

47 to 41 so we'll see if that bears out when we get to that at the end of this month. Lot to get to on this Labor Day Monday evening, including an exclusive interview with former National Security Adviser John Bolton whose denial of the reports that President Trump disparaged the U.S. military getting a lot of attention.

I'm going to talk to him about that in just a little while. Also tonight Karl Rove joining me, former Deputy Chief of Staff for President George W. Bush and a Fox news contributor. Karl, great to have you here tonight. Happy Labor Day Monday to you.


MACCALLUM: Let's start with this. Thank you. A 30,000-foot look at this point, you have some interesting factors here, you don't have a third-party candidate who is going to change the margins here, you've got a very slim number of voters who say that they are undecided at this point so what do you think people should be very focused on as they watch this tonight?

ROVE: Well, we're going to watch - we have 57 days, and I thought Bill Stepien, the new campaign manager for President Trump said something that I suspect his counterpart of the Biden campaign would agree with him.

It matters who wins virtually every single day because the movement in this race could - won't be large but it could be significant. Take a look. I've got a friend, Dr. John Patroski (ph) who was formally the head of the Political Science Department at the University of Missouri (ph), taught at Stanford before then.

He's got a little bit - he's retired so he's got a little bit of time on his hands now so he is now taking the Real Clear Politics average and averaging it by week and this is an interesting thing you pointed out to me. Think about this. This is the week of August 31, last Wednesday, 49-43.

The week before, 49 Biden, 41 Trump. That was just after the Republican Convention. The week of the Republican Convention, 49-41. The week before that, just before the Democratic Convention, 50-42 so the race has tightened a little bit because here, what you're dealing with is not just simply the average of the last several polls.

You're looking at the average of each day aggregated together during that week so the race has tightened a little bit and each side has placed a bet, Martha. Each side has placed a bet. Joe Biden's bet is Trump botched COVID, and I'm normal. I'm not him.

You won't have to wake up in the morning and worry about my tweets. Trump's bid is Biden is weak, starting with law and order. We are not finished seeing that Biden's judgment is bad and Biden is weak from the Trump campaign and then his closing argument, I'll do better at restarting the economy which interestingly enough, he has had an advantage even in June when he was behind in the Real Clear Politics average by 11 points. That was an issue that the President Trump still had the advantage on.

And we'll see these two campaigns fight this out, each one of I'm trying to press its arguments but having as we've seen in the last couple of days to respond to advances President Trump has had to do and responding to changing conditions.

You noticed nobody at the Democratic Convention mentioned law and order. Nobody at the Democratic Convention talked about the violent protests racking Portland but the last week we've now seen Trump, we've seen Vice President Biden come out, we've seen Senator Harris come out.

On Sunday, they put Val Demings, a former police chief as a member of Congress who was considered for Vice President, put her on the Sunday talk programs to say well, we Democrats don't like violent protests either.

MACCALLUM: Yes. Couple of areas you know, it is so interesting to me how slim these areas are that this vote can be eked out in one way or another and everybody of course is watching the African- American vote, the Latino vote, which is grown in certain states that are battleground states in places like Arizona for example.

When you take a look at this, the president has his work cut out for him. Arizona Hispanic voters, Biden 69 Trump 23. North Carolina black voters Biden 88 Trump 5 percent but you know you can see that there's a clear effort. We saw it at the convention and I think we'll continue to see it in advertising and probably in topics in these debates that the Trump team is trying to just shift those numbers a little bit.

How do you think they're doing at that Karl and how much would make a difference? How small amount can make a difference?

ROVE: Well look, this is what we're talking about when we're making a bet, what president Trump is betting is that he can get those numbers among Latino and African-American communities back to where they were in January and February where he looked like he could take the 28-29 percent among Latinos and the 8 percent among African-Americans that he got in 2016 to like 34-33-35-36 among Latinos and 13-14 or 15 among African-Americans, particularly young African-American men.

And if he does that, that's a huge change because each one of those is a vote, out of the Democratic column and into Trump's column and if you've won Michigan by 11,000 votes or Wisconsin by 22,000 or Pennsylvania by 44,000 and you suddenly start to do, you go from 8 to 13 or 14 among African-Americans.

You start to grow your margins and if you go from 28-29 to 34-35 among Latinos in a place like Arizona, you really as a Republican really stand a much better chance up here in the state.

MACCALLUM: I mean fascinating, really fascinating to watch this dynamic here. You talked about the fact that the states that don't start counting and verifying those mail-in ballots until election day and how long it might take them to count them and I looked at the list that you put out there.

Three states really stand out. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all don't begin the process of verifying and matching and seeing which ones they have to throw out for various reasons until Election Day and those are all battleground states, Karl.

ROVE: Yes absolutely and two out of the three except ballots that arrived after Election Day, both of those two things I think are going to combine to make it a real problem. Pennsylvania's trying to change the Secretary of State, a Democrat and Republican legislature are talking about allowing them to begin to process and validate those mail-in ballots before Election Day but it is going to be - those are three critical states, it could be a long time, several days before we get the result.

MACCALLUM: Buckle your seat belt. Going to be a bumpy night. Karl, thank you very much. Great to see you tonight.

ROVE: Thank you Martha. You bet.

MACCALLUM: So President Trump says that there has never been a greater champion of the United States military in response to a report that claimed that he spoke disparagingly about members of the military back in 2018, on a trip to France.

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton, no big fan of President Trump was on the trip in question and he says that he did not hear those comments or anything resembling them so we're going to talk to him about that, a couple of other things when we come back tonight. Stay with us.


MACCALLUM: At today's White House news conference, President Trump aggressively pushing back against claims that he spoke disparagingly about U.S. military during a 2018 visit to France.


TRUMP: The story is a hoax and it's a disgrace. Who would say anything like that? Only an animal would say a thing like that. Even John Bolton came out and said that was untrue.


MACCALLUM: Former national security adviser John Bolton joins me now. He is the author of 'The Room Where It Happened.' Good to have you with us this evening. Mr. Bolton, what's your reaction to what the president had to say about this whole incident?

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, in fact he was responding to an article in the Atlantic magazine from the last Thursday night and the article itself is a mash up of all kinds of allegations. What he thinks of John McCain which I thought was largely accurate and what he happened to say in Paris on the day before Armistice Day, the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, getting ready to go visit French President Macron.

And according to what that article said the president made disparaging remarks about our soldiers, the people buried at the Aisne-Marne cemetery in connection with the decision for him not to go to the ceremony that was planned that afternoon and that was simply false. I don't know who told the author that but that was false and I recounted that in my book, room where it happened and reaffirmed that in response to questions, the next day.

MACCALLUM: Yes. I mean you've heard the back and forth between reporters on this. Jennifer Griffin came on today and said that she stands by her sources, she says that you were not 'in the room' where it happened when this was discussed. What do you say to that?

BOLTON: Well, she's just flatly wrong. Look, I can tell you exactly what it was. We were in the Ambassador's residence in Paris. We were supposed to be having a 10:30 meeting to brief the president for his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at 11. The president was late, which was frequently the case.

I don't think the entire fair lasted more than 10 or 15 minutes and the main issue was whether or not weather conditions permitted the president to go out to the Aisne-Marne cemetery. The people I recall being there were John Kelly, one of his aides, Mike Pompeo, myself, Jamie McCourt, our ambassador to France.

We had this discussion, it was mostly John Kelly presenting the logistical reasons why the trip couldn't take place and the president assented to the recommendations that he not go. He didn't protest that he really needed to go. He just sort of took the facts as they were, a very straight weather call.

After that meeting just for what it's worth, we then went to the Elysee Palace for the President to meet with Macron. That lasted until about 12:45. The two presidents were joined by the two first ladies for lunch, just the four of them that lasted into the afternoon. The president then went back to the embassy and a dinner that night for the heads of state who were attending and that was the schedule that day.

MACCALLUM: I guess you know and as I say, Jennifer Griffin stands by her sources, perhaps there was another discussion that happened in another area that they were privy to and that is her reporting on this but you know, I guess the bigger question is this question of the president's general attitude towards the military because I think what people see is very different from what they're hearing from these generals.

And he says that the rank and file is supportive of him, he believes but that some of the leadership at the Pentagon who did not like some of the decisions that he made with regard to standing by the Kurds or with drawing down troops in Afghanistan is where the divide is and that perhaps that's why they are putting out these messages and putting his comments in light that makes him look terrible.

Do you agree or disagree?

BOLTON: Look obviously, I can't prove the negative that he never said those things. The president has a habit of disparaging people, he ends up denigrating almost everybody that he comes in contact with whose last name is not Trump. I was simply responding to what I thought was the main point of the Atlantic article, that at the critical point Saturday morning when the decision was made not to go to Aisne-Marne that he made the disparaging remarks and he did not.

Now with respect to what people at the Pentagon think and I think this is important, this afternoon at this press conference, the President of the United States said the following that the top people at the Pentagon aren't in love with him because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy. Apart from being incoherent, Elizabeth Warren really couldn't have said it better.

MACCALLUM: OK, we're going to have to leave it there. John Bolton, thank you very much. Good to have you with us. We'll see you next time.

BOLTON: Glad to be with you.

MACCALLUM: So President Trump going all in on Joe Biden's evolving stance on China, why he's warning that a Biden presidency would not end well for America and the other side, coming up next.


TRUMP: If Biden wins, China will own this country and hopefully you're not going to be able to find that out.




TRUMP: If Joe Biden becomes president, China will own the United States and every other country will be smiling. Now you can understand why China would much rather see Sleepy Joe than Donald Trump.


MACCALLUM: President Trump seizing on a New York Times report that delves into Joe Biden's evolving stance on China, one the Times describes as a "20-year road from wary optimism to condemnation," adding, "If Mr. Biden becomes president, his 40-year association with China will reach a crescendo.

Analysts on both sides of the Pacific say greater conflict may be inevitable, given the two nations ideological systems, nationalist sentiments and trajectories - one a super power on the ascent, the other trying to preserve its reach."

Joining me now Dr. Michael Pillsbury, Director for Chinese strategy at the Hudson Institute and author of 'The 100 Year Marathon.' Dr. Pillsbury, always good to have you with us. Thank you for being here tonight so this I think is something that's very important for voters to evaluate because you know eventually I believe that COVID-19 will eventually be over.

The economy is looking like it's recovering but the issue with China and their aggression is not going away so people need to evaluate how each of these men would handle the coming years with regard to China. What do you think?

DR. MICHAEL PILLSBURY, FMR ASIAN AFFAIRS ASST, PRES BUSH: Well, it's going to be tough for the voters because we have Joe Biden now saying you know I'm for that too and I'll be tough on China. I condemn them. You know, he's saying things that he's never said before but he's actually saying them - obviously, the Biden campaign's very smart about the polls.

They see this figure of 9 out of 10 Americans see China as a threat so he's got to say something tough on China but this New York Times article is just beautiful. It deserves a prize in my view. The New York Times usually attacks President Trump. Here they are really devastating Joe Biden's views on China and his long history of being pro-China.

MACCALLUM: Yes, I mean you know President Trump has said many times on the campaign trail already that you know if you go back to Joe Biden's history, you see the ground work that has been laid over bringing them into the WTO was something that he felt very strongly about.

He wanted to open our relationship with trade with China even further and kind of bring them into the fold, believing that more sunshine in this communist leadership would eventually kind of bring them around. That was the original thinking but that is not what has happened.

PILLSBURY: Well, Senator Biden as we called him in those days, even broke with a lot of his fellow Democrats, who were close to trade unions and they were against China joining the WTO and getting these favorable trade deals so he stood out as a leader in the pro-China side.

President Reagan was also for cooperation with China but Joe Biden distinguished himself. The problem I think he faces Martha is also the Hunter Biden problem. The Biden campaign is saying well, Ivanka Trump has a jewelry boutique in China and President Trump's ties come from China.

That's hardly the same thing as Hunter sort of walking off with $1.5 billion of investment funds. So this is also a problem for the Biden campaign I would think.

MACCALLUM: Yes. I think you're right and I think we're going to hear a lot more about it, coming into these debates. I mean I think one of the questions that I look forward to hopefully hearing in these debates is how would you handle an increasingly aggressive China, when it comes to Taiwan?

I mean what would your stance be?


MACCALLUM: How do you push back on encroaching on democratic principles and rights in Hong Kong? I mean these are real questions that both of these men, I think are going to have to answer and the American people, I hope will be listening because it I do think this is something that's going to be one of the biggest issues we face.

PILLSBURY: I agree with you Martha, and what President Trump has on his side now is 3.5 years of a record of taking China on for real in the trade deal and in other areas. Joe Biden can claim to be as much of a hawk as President Trump is but he doesn't have any record that shows that and that's where the New York Times may have affected things a great deal with this powerful article, today.

MACCALLUM: Yes, I think you're right. We're going to keep an eye on it and we'll be watching what he says. I know there's going to be a lot of ads probably on both sides trying to persuade people that each of these men are tough and everyone's got to look very closely at these records and we recommend they read that New York Times piece as you do as well. Dr. Michael Pillsbury, thank you Sir. Always good to have you with us.

PILLSBURY: Thanks Martha.

MACCALLUM: So Biden now revealing whether or not he would get a COVID-19 vaccine if it's available. The president hinted at an October surprise perhaps for the vaccine. He said, yes, he would - he would get it. That's coming up.



DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's just say there is a vaccine that is approved and distribute it before the election. Would you get it?

KAMALA HARRIS, DEMOCRATIC VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I would not trust Donald Trump and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he's talking about. I will not take his word for it. He wants us to inject bleach. No, I will not take his word.


MACCALLUM: One day after that from vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, her running mate Joe Biden responded to the vaccine question himself today with this.


JOE BIDEN, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I got asked the question, if the president announced tomorrow, we have a vaccine, would you take it? Only if it was completely transparent that other experts in the country could look at it. Only if we knew all of what went into it because so far, nothing he's told us has been true.


MACCALLUM: Joining me now, Dr. Scott Atlas, special advisor to the president and senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Dr. Atlas, good evening. Thank you for being here tonight.

Listening to Kamala Harris --



MACCALLUM: -- and listening to Joe Biden reaction to the possibility of what the president called today a potential October surprise, a vaccine that might be ready, what do you make of what they had to say?

ATLAS: Well, Martha, I mean, again, I said it before but only in Washington would be bad news to have a very rapid accelerated development of a vaccine in a pandemic where 200,000 Americans have died. I mean, only here would that be considered bad news.

What's happening is, you know, again, like it's really harmful to have maybe it's a natural from being a political year, I don't know, but it's super harmful to have people instill more fear into Americans when we're here sitting here where the country is I feel off the track here and there's a debate going on about safety with questions raised.

Let me explain how the vaccine is being developed. It's -- there is a safety board, a data safety monitoring board of non-government people that are only going to be the ones looking at the data. The data is a black box, the president no one in the government has any idea about the data as the safety trials going on.

And it's being done in an incredibly rapid speed, this Operation Warp Speed that the president and the administration has put together, this in seven months after the initial identification of the genetic material of the virus into phase three clinical trial.


ATLAS: I mean, this is like incredible news. We should be thrilled.


MACCALLUM: But let me ask you --

ATLAS: And I can say one thing, I'm going to take the vaccine.

MACCALLUM: Yes. OK. Let me ask you this. This comes from a gentleman who is the former head of the USAIDs Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and he weighed in on this, Jeff -- his name is Jeffrey (Ph) Konyndyk.

He says that the fact that the Russia distribute before completing the trials, completing those phase three trials, means that even if the vaccines effectively one have proof and people will be reluctant to take it. So, explain your take on whether or not, you know, people should be concerned about the fact that the end of these trials has not been concluded.

ATLAS: Martha, we have the safest FDA in the world, there is no comparison. I would rather have a drug that was developed by the FDA and approved by an FDA clinical trial in the United States than from any other country.

There's zero question, there is no -- those safety measures being cut, there's no cutting corners here at all. It's a matter of statistical power. It will be determined to be effective if it has enough events that dictate the statistical proof that's necessary to give the vaccine.

This is all nonsensical, I don't know if it's all politically driven or what, but this is just something that's very harmful to the public. We don't need more fear. Everyone should be very confident that there is nothing being shortchanged here in the development of this vaccine and if it comes - if it comes which it seems to be on track before the end of the year but no one can predict with any accuracy, we already are producing those as there is going to be roughly 100 million plus available doses before the end of the year and this is fantastic news.

There is no need for someone in the public eye to be commenting and undermining the confidence of the American people. This is not a political issue, the development of a vaccine. There happens to be an election. That has nothing to do with this.

MACCALLUM: Well, let me ask you this. You've been in the room now, you're on this White House force and an advisor to the president. Have you ever at any time heard him say anything about rushing this before election day wanting to get this out and available to people before election day?

ATLAS: No. That's never been a subject at the task force at all. I've never heard anybody. And there is no way to even pressure this forward. I mean, the whole discussion is really sort of, again, nonsensical. It's just -- it's just a real shame here. I really feel it's harmful when public officials are injecting fear into people for no reason.

MACCALLUM: Dr. Scott Atlas, thank you. Good to have you with us tonight. We'll see where this goes. Thank you very much.

ATLAS: OK. Thanks.

MACCALLUM: So, we're eight weeks out from election day and many voters are still deciding which candidate they will vote for come November. We are going to talk to some of those undecided voters from battleground states and hear what's on their mind coming up next.


MACCALLUM: Eight weeks to go until election day. Today really marks the unofficial end of summer on Labor Day. This is when millions of Americans really start to pay close attention to this race and start to decide what they're going to do when they vote in some states, the voters who are still weighing their options could make the entire difference in this election and there are people like my next guests.

Joining me now are three voters who chose President Trump in 2016 but now say that they are not sure. They are undecided at this point in the race. Becky Abbott is from Wisconsin where Joe Biden is up on the Real Clear Politics average by about five. Cheryl Johnson is from Iowa where President Trump leads by just less than two. And Jerry Stepanovich is from Michigan where Joe Biden is up less than three points.

Welcome to all of you. I really want to thank all of you for coming in today on Labor Day and talking to me about this. So, Jerry, let me start with you from Michigan, it very close last time around, about 3,000 votes made the difference in Michigan. So, tell me a little bit about why you liked President Trump the first time around but now you're on the fence.

JERRY STEPANOVICH, UNDECIDED MICHIGAN VOTER: Well, I like the messaging and I did not like the oppositions -- well. first, I didn't want to vote for Hillary. Couldn't vote for Hillary.


STEPANOVICH: Right now, I'm kind of in the middle with everything that's going on, and I'm waiting for that October surprise, and that will lead -- that should shift my vote either way.

MACCALLUM: And what do you think that might be?

STEPANOVICH: What that -- again, once again, with everything that's going on, I mean, let's see what the Durham report reveals, let's see what, you know, all of these allegations against Trump. You know, let's see what happens. I want to hear -- I want to hear Joe's --


MACCALLUM: See what happens. OK.

STEPANOVICH: I don't want to hear his platform because we're past it, but I want to hear his plan.

MACCALLUM: OK. Cheryl, let me ask you because women tend to lean towards Joe Biden at least in the polls that we see right now, what's the biggest factor for you as you make up your mind between Joe Biden and Donald Trump?

CHERYL JOHNSON, UNDECIDED IOWA VOTER: As being a female farmer in Iowa for the president to step up what his comments were in Omaha last fall about increasing the renewable fuel standard, keeping it at 15 billion and we're not at 13 billion would be a huge swing in interest. We, farmers in the Midwest have taken a hit and we are all about pulling for the team here, for the United States of America but if we could -- you know, we took a hit with the 232 tariff.

We have taken a hit with the bad egg markets and then coronavirus, and we're just kind of looking for a little bit of a break, a little bit of encouragement that that Trump has got her back.

MACCALLUM: OK. I hear you. Becky, what about you? What's the most important thing to you as you try to make up your mind here? What matters?

BECKY ABBOTT, UNDECIDED WISCONSIN VOTER: What matters to me as I am looking for a leader who will take charge and who will bring our country together. I'm looking for a message of unity and somebody who's going to work across the aisle in a bipartisan manner, not -- not really saying I, this is what I can do for our country, but what saying what can we do for our country and what can we do to work together to make our country better.

MACCALLUM: So just staying with you for a moment, Becky, you voted for President Trump last time. What is it that now makes you question whether or not you might? What don't you like so far that makes you on the fence?

ABBOTT: I don't like that he has not worked in a bipartisan manner. I don't like the divisiveness and the name-calling that has our country completely polar opposite sides and that even families and friends can't meet in the middle anymore because everybody has been told that they should take aside and that they can have differing opinions but still work together for the greater cause.

MACCALLUM: So, Jerry, did you watch the Democratic convention and the Republican convention? Was that part of your process or did you not watch?

STEPANOVICH: I did watch. Yes, I did. I mean, I can't say I watch them from beginning to end, but I watched the major parts.

MACCALLUM: So, you watched both and, you know, that that have any impact on your vote or do you think the debates will matter more? What do you think?

STEPANOVICH: It did have some -- I'm swinging more to President Trump because of the fact that the big thing I heard it the -- from the Democrats was the doom and gloom and the, you know, this is the blame game where I heard an uplifting spirit uplifting mood from the Republican side and getting back to a little bit of a faith-based country rather than this just want an unlawfulness.

MACCALLUM: Interesting. Cheryl, I know that farming and the issues that relate to farming are the most important thing to you. What about COVID-19 and the handling of that? Do you think President Trump has done a good job or do you think Joe Biden would have done a better job if he were in charge?

JOHNSON: There was no playbook written for that, that was a total surprise. How I don't know if he necessarily had much to handle it as far as affecting us in the Midwest and the flyover states. You know, our packing plants got shut down and for us at the beginning of the food chain, that affected us immensely.

And I think at the time, the best was done that we could do because people were getting sick and obviously -- and I've got to say, I don't think that that's necessarily a Trump issue because we in the Midwest here, you know, we have to start with a township, then a county wide, then a state wide, and I think that was all up to your governors more than -- you can't point the finger I don't think totally at President Trump.

MACCALLUM: OK. Becky, your husband is a police officer. How much impact does that have on your decision given everything that's been going on?

ABBOTT: It does. I worry about my husband and I love him very much for the work that he does. My kids look up to him for the work that he does. We support him and we support all police officers who do the right thing and of course treat everybody fairly. So, while I do support law and order, I understand what's going on in our country and that we do need somebody that will look at both sides and like I said before, work across both sides of the aisle.

MACCALLUM: OK. So Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, three places that are going to see a lot of ads in the coming months and a lot of visits by these candidates. So, I hope you will all come back and let us know what you're thinking in a month or so as we get through this. I really appreciate you being here on this Labor Day. Many thanks to you all.


JOHNSON: Thank you for having us.

ABBOTT: Thank you for having me.

MACCALLUM: Great group. Great to hear from them.

Coming up, President Trump urging Iran to spare the life of this wrestler who now faces two death sentences in connection with an antigovernment protest.

Activist Masih Alinejad has spoken exclusively with his mother. Her message to America is next. Stay tuned.


MACCALLUM: The case of a star wrestler in Iran is now getting the attention of President Trump who has been influential in a number of releases. Navid Afkari was convicted of stabbing a security guard to death during a protest that he was part of in 2018. He now faces two death sentences.

But days after President Trump called on Tehran to spare his life, suddenly a confession surfaced from the wrestler on Iranian state TV. In it, he reportedly said, quote, "I hit twice, once, and then again."

The U.S. State Department says they believe that Afkari's confession was forced. And now his mother is speaking out exclusively to my next guest.


BEHIEH NAMJOO, NAVID AFKARI'S MOTHER (through translator): They gave money to poor people. My three sons are decent human beings. They wouldn't hurt even an ant. They didn't do any wrong. They did nothing wrong. This is a cruel and unjust verdict.


MACCALLUM: Masih Alinejad joins me now, author of "The Wind in My Hair: My Fight For Freedom in Modern Iran." She is an activist who stands up for people in these situations all the time. Masih, it's good to have you back tonight. What is your take on this and what do you think of this confession that now surfaced?

MASIH ALINEJAD, JOURNALIST: As you heard the voice of this frustrated mother, she doesn't know what to do. But she said that clearly, her son is innocent and her -- I mean, his only crime is to participate in Tehran protest, protesting peacefully against the government. But first, they arrested him and after that, they arrested his brother Vahid as well. Why? Because they wanted Vahid to talk against Navid Afkari.

And then they arrested another brother, Habib, to put more pressure on them. So, that didn't work. So, that's why they forced them all to do false confessions which actually Iranian national television is very popular to do and accused them of killing a security forces guard which is totally alive. So, they are going to kill them and that is what they try to convince the society. But right now, the Iranian people are furious. And they all believe that Navid is innocent.

MACCALLUM: Well, we've seen this before in the stories that you have covered where they take members of the family, and also bring them in, they are then in prison and it's happened even in your family. And it's an awful situation. This is getting a lot of attention and we hope that that will help.

ALINEJAD: That's true.

MACCALLUM: This is the UFC president, Dana White talking about this case. Watch.


DANA WHITE, PRESIDENT, UFC: He went to a peaceful protest in Iran and he is going to be executed for that. The only thing I thought to do was to call the president and see if he could help this man. And he said, let us look into it. Let me talk to my administration and see if there is something we can do to save his life.


MACCALLUM: You know, talk to me, Masih, about the politics of this, whether or not the president could have influence over the Iranian regime with this kind of case at this point.

ALINEJAD: Let's -- it is very, very important for all politicians to speak up against this cruel verdict against Navid Afkari and other political prisoners. And I have to tell you, when you talk to the families, they beg everyone to help them. These people do not have any voice inside Iran. They don't have any media.

Last November, the government in Iran killed 1,500 people. And one of the fathers spoke up, right now Father (Inaudible) is in prison. So, you see, right now, a lot of people inside Iran are actually calling not only the president of America. They are calling the leaders of the European countries to do something and take action.

A lot of European governments have relation with Iran. They go and visit Javad Zarif, the Foreign Minister of Iran. Right now, they have to take an action. Otherwise the regime easily, easily will kill these innocent people. I think Iran is the only country that if you protest peacefully, then they are going to kill you and they arrest your family members to keep them silent. So, this is a tipping point --


MACCALLUM: Is there --

ALINEJAD: -- that we call all -- this is it. If the -- you know, if the western country, the European government keep silent, believe me, they are going to kill Navid Afkari.

MACCALLUM: Is there any indication that there's any movement on this before I let you go, Masih?

ALINEJAD: There is. Look, and right now, the people inside Iran, they only have Twitter. Twitter is filtered but you see the president of you know, the supreme leader of Iran, the president of Iran, the foreign minister of Iran, but the young generation, they are trying to bypass the filtering. And they are on Twitter. Twelve million people use the hashtag don't kill and don't execute protesters.

MACCALLUM: All right. I encourage everybody to watch you on Twitter. And they can see the whole video of Navid's mother and learn more about this case. Masih, thank you very much. Masih Alinejad, always good to have you with us.

That's it for tonight, Monday, September 7th. Happy Labor Day, everybody. We'll see you back here on Tuesday night as “The Story” continues.


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